Coenzyme Q10 has been available over the counter in the United States for about a decade, largely due to studies conducted on its potential to strengthen failing hearts. Most of the research in this area has been conducted abroad, but a small number of U.S. trials exist.
A six-year long study conducted by researchers at Scott and White Hospital in Temple, Texas, explored the use of Q10 in 126 heart failure patients in the early 1980s to find out whether the already established potential of Q10 in healing hearts could be sustained.
"They did great," says Dr. Peter Langsjoen, a cardiologist in private practice in Tyler, Texas, who conducted the study. "The improvement in heart function was sustained and if anything, the mortality was about a third of what was expected."
Heart muscle, because it is in constant motion, is high in Q10. Although it is not well understood, levels of Q10 decrease as people age and can be depleted even further when the heart muscle is damaged.
Despite its theoretical potential, American cardiologists have yet to embrace Q10 as the answer to treating heart failure.
"The safety and effectiveness of Co-Q10 need to be further evaluated," says the American Heart Association. "This requires conducting well-designed clinical trials involving large numbers of patients over a long time. Until that happens, the American Heart Association cannot recommend taking coenzyme Q10 regularly."
No Drugstore Rush Just Yet
Because any disease process that involves free radical damage could be treated with coenzyme Q10, the theoretical therapeutic potential of this compound seems limitless. Cataracts, macular degeneration, side effects of chemotherapy and skin damage related to radiation exposure could all be helped by doses of Q10, proponents believe.
Coenzyme Q10 is also remarkably well tolerated, with few side effects noted in many trials that have studied its use. But whether you should rush to the drug store to pick up a bottle is harder to say.
Some physicians worry the supplement's full range of side-effects is unknown because it hasn't been the subject of enough research. Others are concerned about the proper dosage and the possibility of drug interactions.
Despite these cautions, physicians say they already have patients who are taking Q10 and expect to see an increase in interest in it.
"It is highly likely that my patients will hear of this and start on Q10," says Dr. Neil H. Brooks, a primary care physician from Vernon, Conn.
Rather than stimulating a rush on Q10 by the public, some hope that new research will spark interest in funding studies to test Q10 more rigorously and identify the doses and preparations that are of most benefit, if at all.
This is especially important for those researching neurodegenerative diseases for which few current treatments exist.
Says Michael Miles, a professor of clinical pediatrics and neurology at Cincinnati Children's Hospital in Ohio, "We'll actually find out whether Q10 or some combination of Q10 with other agents may really help give some of these patients a little hope for the future."